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Leadership: The Next Generation

Written by Terri Wallin

As time passes, the reins of leadership are handed from generation to generation. Sometimes the transition is seamless. Sometimes the new leader takes the reins like a bungling Ben-Hur whiplashing their company into an economic emergency room. Even worse, sometimes the reins are dropped altogether and the company careens into the barrow pit of bankruptcy.

Being prepared for a transition of leadership is important. To use another example; it’s important for the members of a runners’ relay team to pass the baton to an enthusiastic teammate, not a grumbling foot dragger who secretly hopes the other members of the team stumble and fall so they, themselves, look good. The baton also needs to be passed to a teammate who has actually trained for the event, not one who skips practice a lot and suffers from sweat aversion. Finally the teammate taking the baton must know where the finish line is and want to cross it before anyone else; otherwise s/he might listen to the sound of his/her own drummer and run the other way. Sometimes generational rein passing or torch passing or baton passing or whatever analogy you want to use can make stakeholders hold their breath into asphyxia.Multigenerations_123rf.com_11315936_ml

Each generation is unique; they are buffeted and shaped by the political, economic, environmental, cultural and religious winds of their time. Some of these winds can be cyclonic, creating generation gaps and colliding ideologies.

Here are the highlights of the five generations in the workforce today:

  1. Traditionalists or the silent generation, born before 1946 are predominantly retired or deceased, but there are a few still working. Billy Graham, international evangelist, now age 97 was still preaching in November of 2014. Neil Diamond, born in 1941 continues to perform internationally as does Barry Manilow, born is 1943. Chuck Swindoll, evangelical Christian pastor, author of over 70 books, educator and radio preacher continues to reach thousands in his work. He was born in 1934. Characteristics of traditionalists include loyalty and faith in institutions. They are most comfortable with a military-style top-down approach with leadership. They are change adverse, value logic and discipline and have a strong desire to build a legacy.
  2. Baby Boomers range between 1946 and 1964. Characteristics most descriptive of boomers include idealism, competitiveness, and a mistrust of authority. They value money, title and recognition and desire to build a strong career. Boomers are often referred to as the “me” generation. Bill Gates, Co-Founder of Microsoft and the Gates Foundation is in the baby boomer age group, born in 1955. Another example in this generation is the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, born in 1953. Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon, born in 1964 is at the tail end of the boomer generation.
  3. 1965 to 1980 marks the Generation X’ers, sometimes referred to as Busters. This generation wins honors for being the most misunderstood. X’ers are typically eclectic, resourceful, self-reliant, distrustful of authority, and highly adaptive to change and technology. Work/life balance is of great importance to this generation. They tend to be flexible and motivated and their greatest desire is to build a portable career.US Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – 2016 presidential candidates—were born into this generation.
  4. The next generation has two labels – Generation Y or Millennials. The years of this generation range from 1981 to 2006. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, born in 1984 is within this generation.This generation tends to be more globally than nationally oriented. They tend to be realists and are cyber-literate. The 9-11 bombing instilled a concern for personal safety. They value diversity and change and desire meaningful work. Lastly, they want to be judged on their own merit.
  5. Generation Z/Digital Natives/iGeneration were born around 1995 (resources differ between after 1994 and 1995). They are beginning to rise into the work force. Gian Javelona is within this generation, born in 1995. He is the CEO for OrangeApps, a technology company.This generation is characterized by instant gratification, probably because of the exposure through life of the internet and social media. They tend to be independent people and tend to feel pressure to succeed. Because of the comfort with technology, they are able to process information quickly.

Since each generation sees the world through its own particular lens, the overall corporate vision can seem a little murky. Leaders can find it difficult to lead multi-generational work environments and award governance to another generation whose goals, and machinations to achieve those goals, are different than their own.  How do leaders form generations with disparate work and world views into a dynamic cohesive team?  How do they successfully pass their companies’ fate into the hands of the right successors?

Because each generation has different motivators and values, the art for any leader, regardless of their age, is to value the unique giftings of each generation. They carry this out in how they counsel, mentor, and coach their direct reports.

Here are six ideas to help leaders direct a multi-generational team:

  1. Seek knowledge about each generation to understand their drivers and needs
  2. Resist the urge to discredit the values possessed by employees with different world-views
  3. Seek to hire multi-generational leaders; this very smart move enables building services, products and systems that work for all people
  4. Master the ability to build a great team that values people regardless of when they were born
  5. Actively listen to employees from each generation; their ideas help create successful organizational visions
  6. Ensure that your human resource policies and practices reflect multi-generational savvy

The digital age is here to stay; historical services, products and practices are up-for-grabs. Smart leaders meld multi-generational workforces into cohesive organizations that anticipate present and future opportunities.

One comment

  1. The first “film” (before video) I ever saw was by a guy named Massey, called “you are what you were then” in the 80’s, and he was talking about the same issues. It’s all about being willing to understand others, to look at ourselves, and to operate with a collective vision of what we want to accomplish.

    Comment by Linda Tieman on February 22, 2016 at 9:30 am

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